Alfred Hitchcock is widely considered to be one of the most influential directors of all time, a pioneer of the medium as well as the first to really make a brand of himself. I mean, how many people really come to mind who are instantly recognizable by their silhouette alone? No director before him and few after, have been able to generate that level of publicity simply by attaching their name to a project. It’s interesting then, that despite hit after hit, no one would put a cent toward making Psycho, which would go on to be one of Hitchcock‘s most famous films and by far the most successful.
This is the story of Hitchcock, which chronicles the troubled production of the film that no one wanted to make. But this isn’t really what Hitchcock is about. What it’s really about is the man behind the camera, and the woman behind him. It’s a charming, if a bit watered down, exploration of the complexity of Hitchcock‘s relationship with his wife Alma, whose contributions to his films went largely unappreciated in her lifetime.
Anthony Hopkins plays the titular lead, while Helen Mirren takes on the role of Alma. Other cast members include Scarlett Johansson as actress Vivien Leigh (AKA the original scream queen), with Jessica Biel co-starring as Psycho co-star Vera Miles.
Understandably, things tend to get a bit meta (am I using that right…“me-ta”?) when describing this film about a film. Luckily, this confusion does not translate into the watching of the film itself. In fact, I would venture to say this is probably one of the easiest to watch of all “film within a film” types that I have come across. You will enjoy seeing how this film got made, even if you are not familiar with the film at all (which, considering the fact that it’s freaking Psycho, is pretty unlikely).
The rest of the movie is pretty entertaining to watch too, though nowhere near as entertaining as the parts that deal with the “making of” storyline. Hopkins and Mirren have wonderful chemistry together, and their relationship, though troubled, is genuinely touching. The fictionalized Hitchcock deals with his insecurities. His age is becoming a problem, with many convinced his career is finished and that he has lost his Midas Touch. Alma, on the other hand, is struggling to be a supportive wife to her husband even as he gambles their life savings to self-finance the film and continues to deny her the appreciation she so desires from him.
Now, I say “fictionalized” because, as many other critics have pointed out, the film takes considerable liberties with the lives and personalities of the Hitchcocks. To this day, many maintain that while they made a brilliant creative team, the couple’s relationship was not an affectionate one, but one of practical sense. In fact, Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, the non-fiction book this film is based on, has little to nothing to say on the topic of the filmmaker’s personal life, at least not to the extent to which the film focuses on it.
Despite this, the film succeeds as an interesting character study as well as a glimpse into the film world of the late 1950’s. Using the context of the story, we are shown a glimpse of what it was like to make a film in that time, when the studios reigned supreme and the Hays Code ruled with an iron fist. Say what you want about how the man himself is portrayed, but when it comes to production design, Hitchcock does some of the most authentic looking work I’ve seen this year.
The supporting cast is wonderful. Jessica Biel in particular shines in this movie. I liked Scarlett Johansson too, but I have long since concluded that she is just too damn pretty for me to judge her performance objectively, so for the sake of journalistic integrity, I’ll just say that she was nice to look at. Try not to freak out when you see Ralph Macchio show up for about ten seconds in the middle (the people next to me in the theater were none too pleased), and don’t expect him to do the Crane Kick – you will be disappointed.
My only problem with this cast is that they seem largely underutilized. Here you have some of the most accomplished actors working today, and most of them can barely get a line in there! It’s almost distracting as you watch the movie because you keep waiting for a scene with them in it, even though they’re not terribly important characters in the context of the story.
So is it a perfect film? No. Does it break any new ground? No. But it is fun to watch. It won’t bore you. Honestly, what more can you really ask for in a film? Especially this year, when at least four of the other films topping the bill are reaching upwards of two hours, closer to three. At the very least, Hitchcock is a lot easier to fit into your day than Django or Les Mis. That’s got to count for something, right?
A love story between influential filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock and wife Alma Reville during the filming of _Psycho_ in 1959.